Sacred cows make the best hamburgers.
Sunday, May 28, 2023
Rich, fat and stupid
Thursday, May 25, 2023
Loyalty and affordable housing
This will be a bit long so find something else to read if you don't have the patience for wonky, ill-written, badly-argued, semi-literate analyses.
I pledge my loyalty to the President and Nation of Kenya. My readiness and duty to defend the flag of our Republic. My devotion to the words of our national anthem. My life and strength in the task of our nation's building. In the living spirit embodied in our national motto - Harambee! And perpetuated in the Nyayo Philosophy of Peace, Love and Unity.
No one wants to live in sub-prime housing. No one wants a house in a neighbourhood plagued by blocked sewers and drainage, where garbage piles on for years in end, where the street lights have never been installed, where footpaths turn into muddy rivers in the rainy seasons, where access to water is only through the sufferance of water shylocks who charge extortionate prices and where, if you survive all this, the "house" is a four-walled metal shack that barely fits two and is vulnerable to the privations of violent criminals and equally violent police. Suffice to say what electricity is available in these places is neither official nor cheap.
The reasons for the deductions into the Housing Development Fund have varied. It is designed to offer the downpayment for an affordable house. It is a savings scheme for Kenyans. It is a source of financing for the private development of affordable housing. It will spur employment among the youth of Kenya. It is meant to supplement ones retirement benefits scheme funds.
I don't think there is a Kenyan who has any fundamental objection to a scheme that provides affordable housing for Kenyans, especially Kenyans living and working in cities and urban areas who don't have access to affordable housing. The mainstream news press has breathlessly repeated the statistics that say Kenya suffers from a severe housing shortage and ignores the explanations offered by economists and professional architects that the shortage is artificial due to, among other things, the high taxes imposed not he housing industry and the high prices charged for the thousands of vacant housing units in places like Nairobi City.
It would pay if we knew what we were being told, and whether what we were told squared with the facts on the ground.
The [National Housing] Corporation may, from the National Housing Development Fund and from time to time, in the manner provided by this Act...make loans to any company, society or individual person for the purpose of enabling such company, society or individual person to acquire land and construct thereon approved dwellings or to carry out approved schemes...[and] construct dwellings, carry out approved schemes and lay out and provide services for approved schemes. - Housing Act, Cap. 1117 [s. 8(1)(b) and (c)]
The functions and powers of the county are...County planning and development, including...housing. [Paragraph 8(d), Part Two, Constitution of Kenya]
When Mr. Raila Odinga, as Minister of Roads, Public Works and Housing in the first Mwai Kibaki Government, initiated the Slum Upgrading Programme in 2004, he set off a chain of events that ended in the complete subversion of the role of local government in the provision of social and affordable housing in Kenya. Of course, we can't ignore the fact that local government had become a hotbed of corruption - the failure of the City Council of Nairobi and the Nairobi City Commission are stark reminders of that corruption. However, instead of making the necessary corrective changes in governance and integrity, Mr. Odinga, with he support of the central government bureaucracy that had become wedded to contractors, took over a role it had never performed and undertook the project without further reference to the people ostensibly for whom the project was initiated.
Anyone who has followed up on the Slum Upgrading Programme will be able to confirm that while the "affordable" housing units were indeed constructed and delivered for occupation, the current occupants are not the original targets of the Programme; many of them, if not all, rent out the units to Nairobi's who can afford to pay the rent, and they have gone back to the slums from which they were supposed to be "rescued".
The 2018 Affordable Housing Scheme was challenged in the High Court and the Employment and Labour Relations Court. Among the arguments was that too was a usurpation of the role of county governments in the development of housing as prescribed by the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution. Both courts granted injunctions preventing the implementation of the Programme. The petitions were withdrawn, without the superior courts rendering a judgment, after the law was amended to repeal all references to the Programme. The re-introduction of the Programme, in the same way it was introduced in 2018, using nearly the same language, in the absence of a definitive ruling by the superior courts, risks the same kind of litigation that saw it being suspended for two years and then scrapped.
I read once in the tabloid press that there are place sin Nairobi where the price of an acre of land has exceeded one billion shillings. There are many factors affecting the price of land, not least being the scarcity of serviced land at affordable rates for the construction of affordable housing. In more mature markets, such as South Africa, a flat of 100m² costs less than ten million shillings. In Nairobi, prices start at twelve million shillings. The continued existence of large swathes of the City being "single dwelling bungalows in quarter-acre" is a scandal of poor physical and land use planning.
The redevelopment of "leafy suburbs" like Lavington, Kilimani, Kileleshwa and Jamhuri was long overdue. The same re-zoning should be done for Parklands, Westlands, Spring Valley and Kitisuru to open up uneconomically utilised land for higher housing density instead of concentrating the densification of housing in Eastlands which, in any case, has long passed saturation point. In the long run, Muthaiga, Nyari and Runda should also cease to be low-density residential areas given their proximity to the Central Business District. Re-zoning these areas will unlock land at affordable rates and spur the private development of affordable housing, and thereby obviate the need for an additional tax on already highly-taxed Kenyans.
There is a large swathe of land in Nairobi between the Makadara Railway Station and the Central Railway Station that is ripe for redevelopment. Part, if not all, of it is owned by the Kenya Railways Corporation Staff Retirement Scheme. It will cost and arm and a leg to compulsorily acquire but not is the best alternative option to a mandatory tax on hard-taxedKenyans and it may stave off the day that Runda, Muthaiga and Nyari have to be converted into high-rise paradises. The National Social Security Fund, and the retirement benefits schemes for the employees of the former local authorities, have the money to acquire and redevelop the land. If they buy in, the dozen or so major private retirement benefits schemes will have the confidence to buy in as well. Private funds for the redevelopment of the land is available. There is no need to trouble salaried Kenyans unless they wish to buy into REITs.
Saturday, May 13, 2023
Laws, godmen, the state and death
No law is ever clear and any person, especially a lawyer, who claims that the law is clear is a charlatan and should be shunned by right-thinking members of the society. If the law was clear, if any law was clear, we wouldn't need the courts of law to interpret what they said or how they could be applied. So anyone that comes to you, unctuous oiliness dialled up to ten, and tells you that the law relating to ministries of religion is clear, is trying to gaslight you. Don't let them get away with it.
I don't wish to dwell on the intricacies of the Societies Act or the Income Tax Act when it comes to the "regulation of churches" but only to say that the law on the regulation of church societies exists, it has been abused, and as a consequence, there are many unregistered church societies that cause serious and continuing harm to many Kenyans. But, and as we have discovered with that shady minister of religion in Mombasa, many church societies also strictly abide by the letter of the law.
The problem in Kenya is not the law. It is not even the interpretation of the law. It is that the legitimacy of the law has never been high to begin with. An apocryphal story relates to the development of social housing in Nairobi in the 1950s. The wazungu in charge fiddled so much with the books of account that anyone who can say with a serious face that they know how much it cost to build Ngara or Pangani estates is a liar. Kenyan civil servants were initiated and indoctrinated in procurement corruption by Her Majesty the Queen's subjects and it s a lesson we took to heart.
Many of the thieves in our government attend church with a regularity that sometimes is a bit disturbing. For sure, the church is where sins go to get washed, where the penitent seek God's forgiveness. But that is not the relationship ministers of government and ministers of religion enjoy. Some may truly believe that the blood of Jesus washes all sins. But the majority, the overwhelming majority, attend church because, in some way, the pastor and the civil servant need each other to steal from the rest of us. Not only do they steal our money through procurement graft and the redirection of tithes and Sunday offertory to fancy Range Rovers, they rob us of our spiritual dignity and find innovative ways to blame us for being so gullible.
We tolerated this grand heist when the leadership of the ministries of religion allowed one among them to depart from the thieving path and speak the truth about the things that were being done to us. But nowadays, there are no honest men of the cloth left. Even the ones we invite to our corrupt TV stations to be interviewed by the less salubrious lying TV personalities have one foot out the door. They are not real rebels. They are agents sent out tot he world to gaslight us that the church exists to serve our spiritual needs and blind us to the material and spiritual robberies taking place in our lives.
There is no way that a ministry of religion can hide the deaths of 179 Kenyans and the disappearance of over 600 others without the officials of government knowing. It simply doesn't make any sense. Yet that is what concerted efforts by diverse spokesmen of the church and the state wish us to believe. They know that if we believe these lies, there is nothing they will not get past us. Don't let them get away with, literally, murder.
Tuesday, May 09, 2023
The wages of constitutional illiteracy
Thursday, May 04, 2023
The pride of prejudice
Dr. Ndemo says, "It would be great if there were no manipulative persons who would take advantage of the legal provisions and the vulnerability of poor people in our society." (Trouble with religious freedom, Business Daily)
He makes a fundamental assumption, one many of us have unconsciously made: poor people are more vulnerable to charismatic leaders of death cults. But, as one of my favourite interlocutors on Twitter asks, how many poor people do you know that can afford to keep four children in school in the Kenya of today?
It is a prejudice we have of poor people and it colours the way we discuss matters where people we perceive as vulnerable are impacted b y the actions of others. The Kilifi death cult leader, and his counterpart in Mombasa, do not appear to have attracted only the poor. In fact, the way many of the stories of their victims are told, it would appear, after a bit of digging, that many had access to resources that were sufficient to support them as they relocated themselves and their children to Kilifi and Mombasa to participate in the fatal activities of the cults.
When I worked for my previous employer, I met and interacted with people in challenging circumstances. Many of them may not have know the law the way that I did, or may not have read Government policies the way I had read them, but they were not gullible, naive or stupid. For sure they were exploited, but only in the context that they were often left with choices that were difficult, if not impossible, to make. But they did not easily fall for sleek-tongued rogues come bearing gifts.
Many of the victims of the cults have been impoverished by the cult. They didn't start their death march living in penury. The cult leaders managed to persuade these frequently educated, well-travelled and informed men and women to abandon their families, communities, jobs and lives back home, give the cult leaders all their worldly possessions, and then kill themselves in a slow and painful process in the hopes that their souls would ascend to heaven.
What we have obscured in these sagas, focussing as we have on the poverty of the victims, is the numbers of our high and mighty who seem to be involved in the affairs of these killer preachers. We have seen them sup together, commune with each other, promote each others' work. Were we to probe these relationships, we would be able to identify many of the reasons why otherwise stable-minded men and women killed themselves and their children.
Thursday, April 27, 2023
History, farce, tragedy
One of the failures of the Uhuru Kenyatta regime was a failure of imagination. While he and the members of his Cabinet and the senior officials he placed in critical ministries and state departments had excellent public relations skills, able to frame anything and everything in ways that painted them in a positive light, they were not Blue-Sky Thinkers. They were not thinkers at all.
Let's start with his biggest initiative: the securitisation of the state after the Westgate Attack. President Kenyatta stopped trying to persuade his political rivals (both inside and outside his Cabinet) about the legitimacy of his public spending plans. Instead, he turned to an institution that was required, on pain of treason, to obey him in all things. He appointed serving and former members of the military to sensitive dockets and gave them their marching orders.
As a result, he and his government had no reason tot think through any of their plans. This is how Huduma Namba came to be. What had originally been mooted as an evolution of the Integrated Population Registration System (IPRS), intended to integrated primary databases was bastardised into the private-sector-led Huduma Namba system that faced legal hurdles until it was quietly abandoned. Had he kept his head and ignored the demons whispering the virtues of the private sector in his ear, President Kenyatta would have succeeded in his digitisation project and the Nyayo-House-based national surveillance system would have acquired technical facilities that would have forestalled the massacres at Shakahola Forest in Kilifi.
President Kenyatta's successor faces the same exact challenges and because he has retained some of the same faces and voices from the Jubilee regime, he is at risk of walking the same unimaginative path that President Kenyatta walked. The only difference is that he doesn't seem enamoured of ex-soldiers to see through his plans. Instead, he is salting his regime with has-beens and kiss-asses with complicated legal challenges. These new men and women lack both wisdom and insight; what they bring to the table is unswerving loyalty rather than the ability to tell the emperor that he has no clothes.
Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga were not necessarily wrong about the re-incarnation of the office of assistant minister. President Ruto certainly is not wrong in offering fifty politicians the chance to serve as assistant minister redux. But whether it was the Uhuru list or the current list, both presidents repeated mistakes that went back to 1992/93: hiring ne'er-do-wells whose only value was that they offered temporary political stability. Consequently, the ability for Blue Sky Thinking was lost and it is lost again. The few thinkers in the group will be drowned out by the reckless loose-lipped members of their team. Instead of the IPRS we deserve, we shall get a kenya Kwanza edition of Huduma Namba, with the same legal infirmities as its much-loathed previous evolution.
President Kenyatta's post-presidency tells you all you need to know about how unimaginative his presidency really was. Had he had the foresight and imagination of Daniel Moi or Mwai Kibaki, President Kenyatta would have had no truck with the likes of a five-times-losing presidential candidate who can't seem to let electoral losses go. For sure, he wouldn't be haunting party headquarters like a spurned lover who simply can't let his ex go. If President Ruto isn't careful, the same fate awaits him. The sub rosa murmurings that he is "too young to retire"; the change the constitution efforts by semi-literate parliamentarians; the increasingly desperate search for a political "legacy" out of the ashes of reckless economic decisions; the post-presidency fiddling with his party; and so on and so forth. Uhuru Kenyatta is a cautionary tale if President Ruto chooses to heed the lesson.
Wednesday, April 19, 2023
Pet or prey?
In a world of predators, would you rather be a pet or prey?
If you have been paying attention, you will surely have seen that in Nairobi, there is no shortage of the well-heeled, even as we are reminded everyday that the economy is in a bad way. The number of late-model Range Rovers, Land Cruiser LC300s, Mercedes-Benz Maybachs and Porsche Cayennes, not forgetting the eye-watering prices charged for well-appointed apartments in Lavington, puts the lie to the claim that the economy is in a bad way.
I think both things can be true at the same time.
There are fewer corporate organisations with the capacity to spend and spend big money like the Government of Kenya. Even in the middle of a wave of austerity, the Government still spends upwards of two trillion shillings each year on everything from Staedtler HB pencils to top-of-the-line Prados. That money is not spent in Ministry-to-Ministry transfers; that money is spent in dukas no one has ever heard of paying way over the odds for supplies that are delivered out of time, out of spec or not at all.
It's how Nairobi is almost always flooded with new motoring iron, austerity notwithstanding.
Of the ones that get a comfortable chunk of those trillions, there are predators, the John Ngumis of this world who eat what they kill. No one thinks of them as being put upon. They have the capacity to affect government and move financial markets in their favour. They are a minority. A sizeable number, no doubt, but a minority nonetheless. The remaining beneficiaries of the trillions are pets. They exist to service the Big Dogs and in return, enjoy perks that the rest of the country can only dream of.
They will do almost anything to remain pets, maybe one day graduate to the class of pampered pets.
You can see how many of these pets behave or are portrayed on social media. They will engage in some of the most excessive escapades, many of a sexual nature, without a care in the world. They will say things that will shock the conscience of millions. They will do things that, for normal human beings, are deeply shameful and dishonourable. They will do all this and worse because that is how they earn, every single day, their pet-hood.
Their rewards, if they cared to think on it, are equally shameful and dishonourable.
The money they enjoy is the least shameful of it all. The rest of it - the power and prestige public positions afford them, the access to corridors of power - those ones should prick their conscience not asking whether or not having their bellies rubbed in public and being told "good dog" by approving Big Dogs is an image they want their children to inherit. They can't, though. They have enough money to be blind to their ritualistic humiliation but not enough to allow them to take a step back and bite the hand that rubs their tummy tum-tums.
They will never bite that hand. Never.